There was never any doubt. No hand dragged across a cold mattress to discover an empty hole. No panic it was all a dream. When I woke, only a few hours after closing my eyes, and with the sun only gently coming in, Jane was still there.
She was no longer resting her head beside my chest – and nothing of our two bodies was touching – but I felt her there before I blinked open my eyes, before I turned to see her, blonde Jane, for the first time in the light of day.
The blanket was crumpled like a candy wrapper beneath her grip, with one long naked leg helping to hold it down, as if the blanket was trying to fly away from her, and she’d spent the whole night wrestling to keep it close. She had taken it all and nothing covered me. I looked at her face, the wisp of hair that danced in her breath, her neck, with a pulsing vein, her nose, every so often scrunching up.
Everything in me pushed me to touch her face. But I couldn’t. My hand floated above her cheek, feeling its warmth, but I couldn’t bring it any closer. I got out of bed and left the room.
I spent a few minutes cleaning – loading the dishwasher, wiping counters. Fifty push-ups on the wood floor, fifty push-ups and each one was for Jane, each one, up and down, to bring the strength in me I felt already dwindling. There was no time to medidate, I told my self, looking at the clock. She’d be awake soon and there was no coffee and nothing to eat. I picked up my jeans from the living room floor, grabbed a t-shirt, which was hanging from a kitchen stool, and left the apartment.
Outside, I found a Paris morning, fresh scrubbed and sunlight, after a night of rain. I said bonjour to the woman struggling with her shopping bags, as I opened the gate for her. I walked smoking my e-pipe, smiling, noticing the red flowers in the clay pots along all the windows up Lamarck and over to the nearest bakery. A homeless man sat out front, pegging his territory for the day. I bought a baguette, and then looking at all the pastries I’d never tried – madeleines, macarons, caramel, lemon and raspberry, éclaires, coffee and chocolate – I decided on the madeleine, thinking of Proust, and an éclaire and my spare change for the poor man out front. At the fruit stand, I tossed two peaches, two pears and a pint of strawberries onto the scale, and with no ability to hide the jubilation in my voice, wished the monsieur bonne journée. Fresh milk and instant coffee at the grocer, then back toward the place on Eugène Carriere, back to sleeping Jane.
Walking into the apartment, before I had time to put down my bags or remove my shoes, I noticed the bedroom door. It was open. The bed had been made. Jane’s pyjama’s no longer on the floor. I tightened my fists as my heart stopped working, as my lips pursed, as my head shook. She was gone.
“Hope to fucking god you got some coffee in those bags.”
I turned around. She had just walked out the bathroom and was now standing in the kitchen.
“You’re out. And where the fuck’s the towels here?”
She wore the brown pyjamas and her hair was tied up, her face was still wet, fresh looking, with all the make-up gone. I walked over and put all the bags down on the counter.
“A second ago I thought you’d broke my heart.”
I reached over to touch her waist but she stepped back.
“Easy now. Make us some coffee, man.”
I found her a towel and she returned to the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and I heard the shower turn on. I got to work, putting on the kettle, laying out the pastry and bread and fruit on the coffee table. I turned on the stereo and played Leonard Cohen – Cohen, the mornings in Toronto, and the way I’d make her French toast, and how can it be I feel this way again? How can it be when it felt so impossible not hours ago? Maybe I never felt like this then, this deeply, but yes, of course I did, and should I feel wrong, feeling this way, when soon, when soon I am going back to her, to the other … – the song “Suzanne” played as I finished making the coffee.
The shower stopped. I shouted:
All was set on the coffee table, and I sat on the sofa smoking my pipe, as she came out.
“God. What a romantic.”
She laughed and shook her head.
“Look man, I can’t stay. This is nice and all but I’m really just gonna have this coffee and get going.”
“No, it’s OK. Take a seat at least.”
She sat at the opposite end of the couch, out of reach. I offered her the pipe but she shook her head. She wasn’t looking at me, but everywhere else, the space above the coffee table, the plant in the corner, the stereo. I took a strawberry from the bowl and bit into it.
“Eat something,” I said. “Feeling OK?”
“Just fucking awesome.”
“You should eat something.”
“I don’t eat breakfast.”
“More for me.”
I said it trying to not reveal the chaos happening in my heart. But the saying of a thing so trite, was so out of my own character, or maybe so revealing of who I was, a man who wasn’t at ease, who had no good thing to say but what everyone always says, that I immediately regretted it.
She can’t go yet.
“Anyway. Look. I’m just worried. Your man’s gonna, well, he’s not going to freak out or whatever.”
“Look man, I’m not your problem. I’m gonna be fine.”
“I know that. It’s just – if you’ve got no place to go, or need to lay low, whatever, you have a place here. Up to you.”
She drank from her coffee then put down the mug. She picked up the pear on her plate, contemplated it a second, then took a bite.
“Look, this is real nice of you.”
I watched her eating her pear, not looking at me, not speaking. She was not the same as the night before. Without her makeup, in the sunlit living room, she seemed older, sadder. It was then I noticed the diamonds in her ears and I felt I could never have her. I picked up my coffee and drank and I was no longer looking at her.
“Where’s the wife?”
“There’s no wife.”
“That room’s full of women’s clothing. And unless you got some kind of hobby, a woman lives here.”
“No wife. No hobby either. I’m renting this place for the month. From a friend.”
“And then what?”
“I’ll keep living in Paris.”
“Writing. Like I told you. That’s what I do.”
“And what else?”
“That’s all I do.”
“Well what a fucking romantic guy.”
I wanted her to see me. I wanted her to look over at me. But she wouldn’t. She stood up and walked toward the bedroom and I followed her with my eyes. She was beautiful. She was. The way her body revealed itself, pushing itself out from beneath her pyjamas. The sadness in her face even, making me hurt, because I could sense it hid another person. She was tired, so very tired, but she was beautiful. She would have gone home with anyone. That bar man. That guy with the smoke. Anyone. And the way she drank. Another bad idea, another problem, another crisis waiting. And my writing… I haven’t meditated. I haven’t started today like I had wanted to, and now she’s here.
She disappeared into the bedroom. I finished my coffee. I smoked from my e-pipe.
She came back with her phone in hand, and jumped onto the couch, sitting right beside me, her thigh touching mine. She touched my leg with one hand and showed me her phone with the other.
“Can you believe this?”
There was nearly a hundred missed calls and text messages, all from the same name. She’s just like the other. She’s torturing this man just as the other’s done to me.
“I mean, fucking ridiculous.”
Just then her phone started to vibrate and the same name came on the screen. She looked at me, smiling, eyes rolled back, as if we were sharing a joke.
“God fucking save me.”
“Yea?.… I’m dead is where … Side of the road you fucking asshole. Your fault too. Tell my mom it was your fucking fault I’m dead you fucking prick … No. What? ….”
She turned away from me to face the wall. She stopped yelling. Her neck was bent over slightly. She curled her legs up near her chest. Her voice became soft.
“…. Look, all I need are my keys … I can’t do this anymore… You know why … Are you going to give me the keys or what? …. Fine. When?”
She hung up the phone. She continued sitting, in silence, with her back toward me. I said nothing. I placed my hand on her back and I moved closer to her on the couch. I wanted to say so much, to ask so many questions. I put one hand on her shoulder, and she placed her hand on top of it. I placed the other on her waist. She didn’t move. I kissed the back of her neck.
“No. It’s OK.”
She turned toward me and there were tears in her eyes.
“Look I know you said you have to work today but…”
“What do you need?”
“It’s OK if you can’t do it.”
“Come with me.”
And then we kissed. It was the first kiss that had nothing to do with sex. It was the first kiss in day light. I held her bottom lip between my two, and her chin in my hand. Everything in me shook. My hand shook as I pulled away from her lips and her face, it shook as I placed my thumb beneath her eye to wipe away the single tear, it trembled just as did my chest, just as did my blood.
“Your friend’s gonna have to lend me some clothes.”